Backpacking Southeast Asia for almost a year, we knew we would end up getting scammed at least once. We were aware of overpaying for fruits on local markets, but as long the price remained within reasonable ranges we forgave those tourist surcharges. No, we meant the kind of tourist scams which involved a bigger emotional and financial investment. Until then we had managed to shake off shady looking taxi drivers, persistent travel agents and alike. Bangkok was the place we were finally taken for a ride. This is the story of us getting scammed, how we could have avoided it and what do if you experience one of the common tourist scams.
Going With the Flow
The one week we stayed in Bangkok we felt like we were living there. We did regular workouts, went to work in a shared office space, watched a movie in a cinema, visited a doctor and most importantly - avoided any touristic places. And we loved it.
However, as our time in the capital was coming to an end, we realized we had not seen any of the famous landmarks. On our last day in the city we got up early and decided to just go explore the city, albeit without doing much prior research. “Going with the flow” was the name of the plan.
The Best Way To See Bangkok
Standing outside Siam BTS station, we desperately tried to figure out which direction do we need to go to visit Wat Arun and Wat Pho. We waved all tuk-tuk drivers away and fruitlessly tried asking locals for help with the public transport. The situation was starting to feel hopeless when a well-dressed man in his 40s approached us and in an excellent English asked if we needed help. We had met a lot of very friendly people while backpacking Southeast Asia, so we didn’t think much of this stranger’s random kindness.
The kind stranger, let’s call him Tom, was a great person to chat with. We exchanged a couple of jokes and spoke about Europe, Czech football players and German beer. Tom even knew a couple of words in German! Very inconspicuously Tom inquired about our travels and gave us recommendations of things to see in Bangkok on our last day. “The best way to see Bangkok,’ – he said – “is to take a Chao Phraya river boat tour. You will see all the sights but will avoid the traffic”.
Meeting a Bangkok Tourist Police Officer
Seeing our hesitation and then growing suspicion with the mention of the word “tour”, Tom quickly pulled a Bangkok tourist police officer batch from the front pocket of his shirt. He said it was his job to help tourists in Bangkok ensuring they don’t get scammed by dishonest tuk-tuk drivers and alike. Now how cool is that?
Slowly letting our guards down, we started considering this option. Seeing it, Tom advised us not to go to the pier where all tourists go and pay obscene prices for a boat tour (everyone's getting scammed there!), but rather take the tour Thai visitors take. The Bangkok tourist police officer told us he knew a place where we could take the Chao Phraya river boat tour for almost three times less than in the city center.
Although still rather pricey, we felt guilty for not having prepared better and concluded this was the price to pay if we wanted to squeeze all Bangkok sightseeing in one day. Plus, getting an insider tip from Bangkok tourist police felt like winning a lottery. And so, our last bits of caution were replaced by trust in this obliging stranger.
Are We Getting Scammed? The Slow Realization.
As the tuk-tuk organized by Tom (to avoid tourist prices, of course) rushed us direction boat tour company, we still felt incredibly lucky. The fact that the entrance to the pier was through a dodgy alley we would have never found by ourselves, only made us feel more excited about the upcoming adventure. Off the beaten track is how we love it.
Yet something was off.
It was weird that the tuk-tuk driver felt compelled to accompany us all the way to the ticket counter and to hang around while David was buying our tickets. What does he care if we’re getting on the boat or not? It was weird that there were no local tourists around and that everything was written in English. It was weird that everything was so rushed. Something wasn’t right.
I pulled out my phone and googled Chao Phraya river boat prices. Almost simultaneously with David getting our tickets and us boarding the boat, I realized we were getting scammed. Well, taking a boat tour was still the best way to see Bangkok. However, the official hop-on hop-off boat costs almost 7 times less than what we had just paid for the 90-minute tour. There was absolutely no way Tom - the Bangkok tourist police officer didn’t know about it. Just one of the classic tourist scams. Oh damn it!
|Official Hop-on Hop-Off boat ride (whole day)||200||5.26||6.21|
|Tourist scam long tail boat ride (90 min)||1'500||39.45||46.54|
Our Chao Phraya River Boat Tour
Not willing to spiral into negativity so easily, we reassured ourselves the tour on the little long tail boat would at least be more personal and interesting in comparison to the mass tourism hop-on hop-off boats. Yeah, it will be even better. It will.
Our first stop was Wat Arun. Well, second, if you count the promised flower market sight on the way. The boat had merely passed by a building with the words “flower market” written on it. Or at least I think that’s what it was. The boat captain didn’t have any intention in becoming our tour guide and remained silent for the entirety of the trip.
Another lucky Western couple and we were told to get off a small pier next to the famous temple. An older lady hastily approached us and demanded we paid a debarkation fee. Seriously?
Luckily, the exorbitant price we paid for the tour included entrance to the temple. Just kidding. We had to buy the entrance ticket additionally. We walked around the temple and snapped a couple of pictures, trying really hard not to get annoyed with the situation, the endless number of tourists, the burning noon sun and mostly with ourselves for not having prepared better. It was so frustrating and so disappointing!
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Should we even go back to that boat? We debated and agreed to at least enjoy the Chao Phraya river boat cruise and if it really didn’t improve – get a ticket to the hop-on hop-off boat in the afternoon and finish the sightseeing tour. The goal was not to let scammers rob us off the remainder of our good mood and the last day in Bangkok.
When the floating market turned out to be a one-man show on a rubber boat trying to sell us cold beer, our last hopes sank. Our Chao Phraya river boat tour was so ridiculously bad it would be funny if it wasn’t so infuriating. As soon as the boat stopped at the next destination, we rushed off it. Furiously snapping at the next crowd of eager debarkation fee collectors, we ran off the pier. I think everyone knew we were not coming back to that boat.
Counting Our Blessings
We spent the afternoon wondering through the streets of Bangkok as we had originally planned and ended the day over a delicious dinner in Best Beef - our favourite BBQ place. It was crucial not to let falling victims of one of the common tourist scams ruin our day.
Curious, we later did more research about Bangkok tourist police and their fake counterparts. Apparently, the latter is part of a bigger mafia organization running multiple businesses connected through various elaborate schemes. At the end, we had only lost a bit of money and had a disappointing tourist experience. Everything legal. It could have been much worse. Grateful our story had a happy ending.
There was one question I still couldn’t figure out though. Tom spoke such good English, better than many working in the official part of the tourism industry. Is this part of the stricter mafia job requirements or do they invest in their human resource development? ¯\
How To Avoid Getting Scammed
- Do at least a basic research of key attractions, tours and their prices to have some context / benchmark (read online, ask fellow travellers).
- Learn about Thailand tourist scams to be more aware and hence prepared (read online, ask fellow travellers).
- If you have a specific tour in mind, book it with trusted sources such as GYG or Klook.
- Don’t trust overly friendly strangers on the street who approach you to help.
- If something sounds too good to be true, take a deep breath to contain your excitement and spend extra time making sure you understand the details of what is being offered to you.
- Don't let anyone rush you into anything. If it’s legitimate there is most probably plenty of time for you to go at your own pace.
How To Recognize a Real Bangkok Tourist Police Officer
The easiest way to recognize a real Bangkok tourist police officer is by his full uniform. Impersonators typically have a fake badge or only a partial uniform claiming they wear civil clothes to work undercover. If suspicious, you can always ask to see the police officer’s badge. If he doesn’t have one, politely end the conversation and move on.
A real Bangkok tourist police officer will not proactively approach you to help. You must approach them if you need anything. Most real tourist police officers are found at the main tourist attractions and not on the side streets.
Got Scammed. Now What?
If you think that a law has been broken, report your incident to the authorities. You can contact Tourist Police Officer on the street, via phone (1155) or through their official website.
Otherwise - get the frustration out of the system, let it go and try to stay positive. It’s enough that you got tricked into doing something you didn’t want or paying more than you should have. It’s done now and you can’t change it. What you can control is your attitude towards the situation, not letting the scammers also rob you off your precious good vacation mood.
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